For long now, the general perception of short films as compared to full-length features is similar to that of a writer compared to a director – low budget, underappreciated little cousins, but the building blocks of creation nonetheless. Though shorts have long been considered "net-practice" for bigger things, the Indian scene has somewhat changed in recent times. Recognized faces have stepped in, both, in front of and behind the cameras.
Short-content collectives have recognized the power of web branding, and vice versa – an association that has changed the face of this hitherto unexplored medium. This, in turn, has finally afforded short films and its makers an independent creative identity. It is more of a destination than a process.
'Going viral' may not be the most sophisticated term for the purist, but the mere concept of it has pushed many upcoming – as well as experienced – filmmakers to up their game.
Over the last two years, there has been a visible spike in the quantity and quality of these films.
Here are ten such homegrown shorts, in no particular order:
Dir: Devashish Makhija
A painfully upright man. A frustrated wife. Disillusioned colleagues. And, to top it all, Mumbai's infamous Ganpati Visarjan chaos. It's bad enough for a regular local to be in this frenzied zone, but imagine the life of a head constable at this point. An honest one, at that. Does he break down or break free?
The resurrection of Manoj Bajpayee – his second innings, weeks before Hansal Mehta's Aligarh released – began with this film. He was no more a Prakash Jha villain. Makhija captures the language of an "adult" meltdown with much verve and rhythm, the core of which is scored to a criminally addictive Nucleya track. This was perhaps my singular favorite moment – and short film – of 2016.
INTERIOR CAFÉ NIGHT
Dir: Adhiraj Bose
Very rarely do you see a beginning and end of an incomplete story play out simultaneously on screen – without knowing which could actually be which. Does breaking up mean the end? Or does finding each other again really mean the beginning? One can sense the gravity of an epic full-length multi-track screenplay between these two distinct emotions.
An old café owner (Naseeruddin Shah) notices a familiar face (Shernaz Patel) – decades after they parted ways at this café. A lifetime has passed, but every moment of it can be seen in the muted twinkle of his eyes. Simultaneously, a young couple (Naveen Kasturia, Shweta Basu Prasad) bids a teary goodbye at the corner table. Bose's well-acted film is quiet, old, young, sad, written and hopeful – all at once.
Dir: Akshay Choubey
Perhaps the most damning indictment of this emoticon era, Laugh is primarily a clever nostalgic throwback to the time conversations were, well, actual conversations. A time when whispers and chuckles could be heard and not typed down, and when banter didn't need to be compressed into a Whatsapp forward.
The film cuts from a lived-in and rather infectious scene from 1967 to its modern, soulless 2016 interpretation with the same characters. If nothing, Laugh deserves to be smiled at for the evergreen Sanjai Mishra's terrific bonhomie with his rakish neighbours (Brijendra Kala, Vrajesh Hirjee). Chemistry, after all, can't be written either.
THE TIME MACHINE
Dir: Aarti Kadav
How often does one come across an Indian DIY science-fiction tale? This Michel-Gondry-ish short playfully employs the device of time-travel to examine the tender contradictions of growing up. It also explores the metaphysical concept of fate in the most accessible manner possible.
Because the boy (an Andrew-Garfield-ish Siddharth Menon) in question isn't just any rebellious brat. He is destined for an immortal, change-the-world kind of greatness. A meeting with his adult self (Anjum Rajabali) modifies the way he views life – that is, a sci-fi version of what we call an "epiphany".
The Time Machine is original, dreamy, childish and most importantly, an inventive take on the angsty coming-of-age template.
THAT GUSTY MORNING
Dir: Jahnu Barua
This poignant Assamese meet-the-parents short has a lot hidden beneath its fairytale-ish title. A girl is nervous about her boyfriend's 'formal' visit to her home. Not for the impending act of senior consent, but because her ex-professor mother (Seema Biswas) has Alzheimer's – a condition she hasn't told him about.
As a result, this meeting becomes all about hiding, and almost resenting, the afflicted older woman – an embodiment of society's withering gaze towards mental health.
This young lady becomes the epicenter of a foundation-altering emotional storm; on one hand, she experiences the unconditional nobility of a partner's new love, and on the other, she is humbled by the uncompromising strength of a long-lost parent's fractured consciousness. Nothing like good, old-school storytelling to turn a hopeless scene into a heartwarming one.
Dir: Jyoti Kapur Das
One of the last year's most accurately performed and atmospheric pieces of storytelling – both of and within the film – Chutney remains memorable for all the invisible, clandestine middle-India vibes it evokes through one seemingly gossipy conversation.
Tisca Chopra is unrecognizable, and creepy beyond her character's petty Model-Town bearings. Notice her subtle intonations, as the chatty housewife "sizing up" her husband's (Adil Hussain) younger mistress (Rasika Dugal) over a wildly imaginative story and plate of delicious mint chutney and pakoras.
This film is funny, clever, dark, moody and very entertaining, raising visions of a mischievous desi Tim Burton-ish franchise of the 'Wife who kills with words'.
Dir: Srinivas Sunderrajan
A "Mother's Day Special," Sunderrajan's short is an unsettling film about a regular door-to-door saleswoman: a cloyingly sweet older lady (Suhita Tatte; invoking her inner Bob Biswas) who sells a special custom-made tonic for a living.
She seems like a typical 'bechaari' aunty – the kind who tries too hard to be affable, perhaps a result of the fake, cheery-pitched castles-in-the-air optimism she must employ.
But all is never what it seems. This film left me a little frightened, but even more disturbed for the wicked smile that crossed by face. What does that say about me?
Dir: Ayappa K.M.
I'm seeing a trend in this list now. Wicked, indeed. The top-prize winner at last year's Mumbai Film Festival, The Guest is another unassuming, unsuspecting slow burner (in 8 minutes!) about a man whose car breaks down in the mountains.
He finds shelter at a nice warm cottage. If you think this is a prelude for a spook fest or slasher-flick, think again. It could just be worse – given the terrifying "normalcy" of this situation.
The best part about this film is that it's a short, which is why it can afford to suggest and not show, and leave much of what follows to our sordid imaginations. Those of you who've seen Vikramaditya Motwane's recent survival drama, Trapped, may just join the dots.
Dir: Jaydeep Sarkar
Another triumph of two fine actresses, this intricately detailed short explores the hidden regrets of two distinct female personalities: The frumpy housewife (Tillotama Shome, as Alka) craving for a chardonnay-and-lipstick makeover, and her confident "modern" neighbour (Konkona Sen Sharma) who takes Alka under her bindaas wing.
One of them can't embrace her own innocence, while the other wishes she hadn't lost hers. You know how it goes – closed doors and closets are the only furniture Indians invest in. Just like comedians tend to conceal an inherent sadness, those who rescue others do so to distract themselves, and are invariably the ones in dire need of a parachute. This film, by leaving the stage to its faces, depicts the futility of these desperate urban masks.
Dir: Megha Ramaswamy
By sidestepping the concept of being a film, Megha Ramaswamy's surreal-looking, whispery documentary short sets about to design the "look" of closure – if there were ever one.
A haunting, dystopian world created around the resonant thoughts of a real acid-attack survivor, Newborns reverses the social-message template by refusing to exploit the aftermath of a horrific crime.
Instead, it manifests the very nature of healing in its introspective sights and sounds – producing a feeling instead of a story. It plays out like a recurring nightmare gradually beginning to assume the incoherent poetry of a hopeful dream.
Dir: Sumit Aroraa
A perceptive drama about a troubled city girl struggling to detach from a long-term relationship.
Dir: Rohin Raveendran
A quiet, humbling and minimalistic 60-second take on the country's crippling migrant epidemic.
Dir: Siddharth Gupt
An untidily crafted but beautifully acted film about a Haryanvi schoolgirl grappling with the awkward complexities of puberty.
Dir: Ashutosh Pathak
A quasi-sarcastic, verbose character portrait symbolizing this generation's convenient button-clicking outrage.
This Bloody Line
Dir: Ram Madhvani
A simple, elegant and introspective scene about a British man that evokes the forgotten horrors of India's controversial Partition history.
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